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“I think jail is a very good place. We need to ramp up the integrity of the marketplace. If self-policing were okay, we wouldn’t need a police force.” Nalven stops for a breath. “I’m an attorney. I represent people. I have a skeptical view on human nature. I’m an anthropologist as well. So on two counts I’m very skeptical about human nature. What we see now is more punishment as a way to make the marketplace more secure, but, then again, is that really a guarantee? We trade one illusion for another.”

Yes, well, maybe, perhaps. “Let me have your stock tip of the day.”

“I often listen to Bill Holland on the radio, and he’s saying the stock market is going to go with the rest of the country. If the country is going to go in the tubes, then what’s the point of having stocks anyway?”

Sitting military straight, in the far chair, is a nervous, pensive-looking man. I assume he’s waiting for an appointment. The man has a smooth oval face and pursed lips and is bald save for a streak of cropped gray hair above his ears. I say hello. We chat a bit. I learn he’s here to put money into the market. His name is Craig Christiansen. He’s been working as a transportation assistant on North Island and lives in Normal Heights.

Christiansen says, “I don’t know anything about investing or nothing. I’m kind of the, what do you call it, the green…things are green, or whatever they call it when you’re new at something.”


“Yeah.” We laugh. Christiansen says, tentatively, “I have to withdraw this money by August 23. I guess I retired at the wrong time. What they tell me to do is open an IRA, which is the only thing my 401(k) can do. It’s going to be a rollover-type IRA. My dad’s been saying, ‘We’ll just keep it in a money market right now, and when this market gets better we’ll see about stocks and bonds and all that.’ ”

I ask, “Has your 401(k) lost money?”

“Lost $1000 in a month.” Christiansen is suddenly decisive. “My ending balance in May was $42,000, and my ending balance in June was $41,000.”

“That’s not bad, to be only $1000 down.” In fact, that’s a better record than anyone I know.

“No, it’s not. But, see, that’s government bonds and stock. But now I have to take it out by August 23, because the system is going over to a new computer and I don’t want to wait, and who knows what might happen with a new computer system? So I’m trying to get it done now.”

Either he knows a great deal about computers or he knows nothing about computers. “Well, you’re maintaining your capital. A lot of people have lost a lot of money.”

“My dad said he’s lost some, but not a lot. He keeps telling me about diversification, because you have to put the money in different spots.”

“Have you studied the market?”

“No, I haven’t. In fact, I’m one of these who would rather have someone else do it for me. I can’t balance my checkbook, let alone anything else.”

I can feel sharks circling. “Do you worry about the stock market and what might happen?”

“Well, right now, I’m kind of worried, but I’m not in it yet. I didn’t worry about it when I was working. But now that I have all this money, I need to find a place, someplace where it will get me more bang for my buck.”

Christiansen leans toward me. “This has to last. I’m a young retiree with a disability. I need this money for when I get older, because I’m not a normal retiree who retires at age 62 or whatever. I am retiring at 43. My retirement will be a lot longer. This 40-some thousand has to last me, because I have nothing else except for the annuity I get for my disability.”

One bad break would cost $40,000. Easy. “What’s wrong?”

“Diabetic neuropathy. I have no feeling from my knees down. Losing it in my hands as well. Now I’m stuck on the bus. I can’t drive anymore.”

And again. “How long have you been in the stock market?”

“Over 30 years. I belonged to an investment club.”

I’m talking to Helen “My mother gave me a short name in case I had bad handwriting” Callahan. Mrs. Callahan is a happy-looking woman in her 70s. I make her for five foot six. She has curly auburn hair, an easy smile, and wonderful laugh lines around her eyes. I ask, “Are you in a fund or individual stocks?”

“Individual stocks.”

“How is that going?”

“I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t look. We don’t need the money now. If you don’t need the money, your losses are only on paper. I spoke to my daughter in Berkeley last night. She said, ‘Mom, I’ve lost $10,000.’ I said, ‘Nancy, that’s only on paper. Wait, it will go up.’ And it will go up.”

Nobody has actually lost money. I ask, “Are you continuing to buy stocks?”

“No. He [Callahan nods to her husband in the next chair] is going to be 80, I’m 79, and there’s not enough money to buy.”

Helen was trained as a nurse. “I graduated from the Columbia Presbyterian School of Nursing in New York, but I never worked. My husband was a single-engine carrier pilot in the Navy. And then he had his own tax and bookkeeping business. We’ve lived in Coronado for 40 years.”

Sounds quite pleasant. “When you were in the investment club, did you study the market?”

“We never bought anything if it didn’t go through our study group. We never took more than 20 people in the club, all women in the club. We used to have meetings once a year. We disbanded two years ago.”

“How come?”

“Because we were old, we were tired, and the market was high. We’d been going on for 30 years. We got down to 15 members — people had died, moved away. We decided to disband. That was 2 years ago. We had a big sell-off and then went to lunch and everybody got her check and we all made money.”

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